LONG BEACH, Calif. — Three times a week 57-year-old Salvador Rayas sits in a chair for four hours at a time to undergo dialysis.
What You Need To Know
- People with underlying health conditions — including chronic kidney disease, heart conditions, pregnancy, and severe obesity — between the ages of 15 and 64 are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine starting March 15
- Not all dialysis patients are eligible to receive the vaccine yet and they are particularly susceptible to catching the coronavirus due to a weakened immune system
- To reduce the risk of dialysis patients getting infected, thousands of dialysis healthcare workers are getting vaccinated at pop-up sites at 12 DaVita dialysis centers across L.A. County
- Dialysis is a process that cleans the body's blood when kidneys can no longer perform that function
Several years ago, his kidneys failed. In order to stay alive, he must undergo the process that cleans his body’s blood, but these days, dialysis is even more crucial for his body.
“I’m up for a kidney so my body needs to be really, really clean,” Rayas said.
With a weakened immune system, Rayas does everything he can do to avoid catching COVID-19, including double masking and isolating at home, he cannot wait to get the vaccine.
According to state guidelines, people with underlying health conditions — including chronic kidney disease, heart conditions, pregnancy, and severe obesity between the ages of 15 and 64 — are eligible to receive the vaccine starting March 15. For Rayas, that day cannot come soon enough.
“It would make me feel safer and it would help me to get out of the house,” he said. “It would make me feel more comfortable.”
Until then, thousands of dialysis healthcare workers are getting vaccinated at pop-up vaccination sites at 12 DaVita dialysis centers across Los Angeles County in order to protect not only themselves but also patients who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Workers like Michela Leytham, a nurse and facility administrator for DaVita Long Beach Harbor Dialysis.
“We have patients that have been here 10, 15 years,” Leytham said. “We have patients that have started only because we have availability because the virus has knocked a lot of our patients out.”
Leytham said her clinic offers 12 chairs for dialysis treatment, serving up to 70 patients a day but these days, some chairs are vacant after patients succumb to the coronavirus. That has taken an emotional toll on Leytham who often sees the same faces three times a week.
“They kind of become like our family. A lot of times, we are with them more than we are with our own family,” she said.
Since patients must visit a dialysis clinic multiple times a week, they potentially expose themselves to the coronavirus every time they leave their home. In addition to vaccinating fellow dialysis workers, Leytham said her team thoroughly disinfects the clinic multiple times a day and give patients a new mask every time they walk in the door. DaVita clinics are also vaccinating patients ages 65 and older when they are on-site for treatment.
Leytham said fear of infection always weighs on her mind but until more people receive the vaccine, she takes safety precautions to ensure her patients do not get sick.
“It’s time for us to step up even though we are so frightened,” she said. “We are very scared but somebody has to take care of the patients.”